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Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

The “Internet of Things”

As this is now abuzz-phrase you’ll see littering the press, I thought I’d put in my two-pence worth on this “new” subject.

The “Internet of Things” is a phrase used to describe things that can be controlled or monitored (or both) over the Internet.

In 1962  I was too young to be aware of what was happening outside of my own house! but at this time, a fellow called Licklider from MIT was describing what he called a “galactic network” concept in which computers all over the world would talk to each other. By 1969 4 machines were talking to each other in what was called “Arpanet” and the rest is well known… today, billions of machines are connected worldwide… but most folk think of everything from large computers down to mobile phones – what is slightly less well known is the massive spread late last century of “microcontrollers” which are now found in most everyday electronic gadgets (washing machines, industrial controllers etc. and which are often connected together by what is currently called “The Internet of Things”. Checkout Cloudwash if you’re interested in what might be done with domestic appliances. Here is another link to a Samsung phone controlled washing machine, the WW9000.

In 1963 my interest in electronics started with a “Philips E10” kit which started me on the path of building radio receivers, controlling lights and motors.. and I’ve been involved with electronics since then, writing articles, building machines and eventually turning my interest into a business in the 80’s and beyond.

In 1974, the X10 protocol was developed in Scotland (but strangely found much favour in America where, amongst others,  Steve Ciarcia made it popular with hobbyists -Steve Ciarcias Circuit Cellar magazine). This was a means of connecting gadgets around the home/office/factory for the purpose of remote control. In this case the signals were/are in fact sent over the mains electricity supply. Other solutions involve WIFI, Bluetooth, general radio, Infra-red and other mechanisms.

That takes care of the local connectivity while the Internet allows that remote control to extend worldwide.

In 1982, students at Carnegie Mellon University created the first ever “Internet connected soda vending machine”. I remember being fascinated at the possibilities this would bring, thousands, perhaps millions of machines of all shapes and sizes being controlled and monitored via the Internet from anywhere in the world. Of course at that time there was not even the concept of an Internet-connected mobile phone so that limited possibilities at the time – but this was enough to start me off and by May 1994 our company had developed a home control system called Appcon which basically let anyone control lights, alarms, heating and more from a PC – and by implication, by remotely controlling the PC, from anywhere. 

We used wire control and the mobile infrastructure was simply not ready for this. Today it is and we’re already starting to see simple light and heating control via mobile phones appearing on the market. We’re also seeing what I believe is only the tip of the iceberg in dire warnings in the press about security.  While Windows and the Internet in general have had a long time to get used to nasty people trying to break in and destroy – to the extent that virtually all of the public are aware of viruses, trojans and other means of destroying PCs, certainly the home control market has to date not been sufficiently important to attract large scale attempts at disruption – but it will happen – it’s just a matter of time.

Part of the problem is that the sophisticated anti-virus and other techniques used to protect PCs are simply not available to the simplest of controllers you might see in for example a remote light switch. Even HTTPS: which is a simple mechanism to encrypt data over the Intranet is mostly not available to the simplest of controllers.

Gartner reckon that by 2020, 30 BILLION devices will be connected to the Internet and bear in mind that the current IP4 system of Internet addressing allows for only 4.3 billion individual device addresses and that includes PCs and phones etc.!! Newer technologies such as IP6 which allow for a FAR greater number of devices are again not really available to the simplest of devices at this time so there are lots of changes and improvements to be made in the coming years.

In the meanwhile, much fun and entertainment is still to be had in this emerging field – enthusiasts using the likes of the Raspberry Pi, Arduino and other technologies are having a great time coming up with new ideas and new applications. The combination of local networking and remote control via the Internet has chance to dramatically change how we interact with the world in the coming years, offering massive possibilities for saving energy and doing things in completely new ways. Expect to hear a LOT more of this in the coming months.

For my own efforts I’m now controlling my own gadgets in 3 properties including modern lighting technologies and heating and already making savings on heating bills.

Unbelievable Weather, unbelievable Adobe

It’s hard to believe the weather we’re having here in the Northeast… it’s been sunny now for over a week – and to keep the gardeners happy and keep the air fresh, it has conveniently rained overnight twice only to return to full sunshine in the morning.

solar lighting experimentI remember “April showers” when I was younger, when it would be sunny with constant drizzling but in recent years the weather has just been PANTS ALL SUMMER.

If this is our share of global warming – bring it on!  It’s giving me the opportunity to do something I’ve not done in a while – play with solar lighting. I’m trying to do a better job than the Chinese do while keeping the cost to next to nothing. So far so good. 2 transistors and a couple of other bits. Just need to stop batteries getting too flat now.

ANOTHER Adobe updateFinally.. is it ME or is Adobe updating that stupid reader 2 or 3 times a week? You’d think by now they’d have it right.. Imagine what the infinitely more complex Windows 7 or Apple operating  systems would be like if they had a many problems – you’d be updating every minute!!!

Strange Caterpillar

strange caterpillar

I’ve seen some strange creatures in my time but nothing like this caterpillar, which I just happened to notice while wandering into the house for a cup of coffee this afternoon.  Around 50mm long, he looks for all the world like a truncated snake – certainly the head and “false” eyes give that impression. 

And that’s in sunny WARK, not some strange country! According to Melanie-Jane at our office – this is an ELEPHANT HAWK MOTH CATERPILLAR – looks about right from the photos on Google!

closeup caterpillar

Deed a holiday in Northumberland – then check out Hollyberry Cottage Holiday rental in Bellingham

Another Productive Weekend and Poo

AgrivertIt’s been a productive weekend up to now… my article in Computing Magazine went through, which was nice of them and I spent the day working quietly on the FSB’s mass emailing system, having finally figured out how to track links. I wasted half the morning trying to find a decent article on cross-browser rounded corners to tidy the visuals up a bit – but even that works now.

We then went out last night with friends to a local restaurant just off the military road (see photo – experimenting with my new HDR camera software, this was taken just before sunset amazingly) and had a very nice time indeed. Today, having promised we’ll open up Hollyberry Cottage for business at the start of October, we’re off to do some grafting. BT are delivering the broadband line next week so I’ll finally get a change to sign up to the FON network and give that a go – I’ve an APP on the iPhone to tell me where the hotspots are and apparently there are several in the village of Wark! In case you have BT Total Broadband and are not benefitting from this amazing free service, here’s the link, not that I’m pushing BT by any means – I used them because in the back end of Bellingham there are not that many alternatives.

Do you live near or pass by Nunwick, Simonburn? Have you been travelling to and from Hexham and noticed that HORRENDOUS STINK? Have you complained to Tynedale Council about it yet? If not, why not? The stuff is called AGRIVERT. If you look it up on the web the company have been clever enough to ensure they have all the initial entries – however it IS recycled human waste and it absolutely HONKS. If anything is guaranteed to make you want to PUKE rather than enjoy the countryside – this is it. Complain to Tynedale council at 01434-652121. The British countryside should be preserved for all, not poisoned with this stuff. I’ll be onto them first thing in the morning…

Never heard of it? Check out these links.. you’ll be horrified.

http://www.northumberlandgazette.co.uk/news/Stench-incurs-villagers39-wrath.6102941.jp

http://www.alanbeith.org.uk/news/000593/residents_raise_agrivert_concerns_at_embleton_meeting.html

http://www.hexham-courant.co.uk/sport/rugby/1.409321

http://findarticles.com/p/news-articles/northern-echo/mi_8047/is_20061110/residents-kick-stink-field-human/ai_n48553685/

Peter Scargill

Venter on DNA and the Sea

This is a video of Craig Venter back in 2007 discussing the progress they were making with artificial life – and how this might be adapted to various uses – i.e. ultimately replacing the petrochemical industries and other gob-smackingly outstanding ideas….   towards the end I was amused when he referred to the 18 months they took out for ethical policy studies… in which they delayed their studies in 1999, in which he says…"every major religion participated in this… it was a very strange study because the various religious leaders were using their scriptures as law books and they couldn’t find anything in them prohibiting making life… so it must be ok"….

Weird – on the one hand you have a guy talking matter-of-fact about stuff that anyone who’s NOT watched him most likely thinks is distant future sci-fi… and on the other hand what kind of crazy state is science in where it has (at least in the US, I hope to Betsy not in the UK) to go talking to religious leaders  for their approval – I thought they only did that in the dark ages!!

Anyway, thankfully none of this has stopped progress and they’re now so far advanced, you can’t help thinking that any day soon we’re going to hear something major – like an alternative to oil, cures for major diseases… it might be just Venter’s style but listening to what they’ve already achieved makes one proud to be around in the early 21st century. WELL impressed….. and his latest video wherein they’ve put together the first artificial working life complete with embedded website address in the DNA – well….mind-blowing…

Here are both videos – I suggest if you’re interested watching them in order…. the TED videos are just SO much better than watching pap on TV as they don’t have to cater for the lowest-common denominator – yet still usually manage to keep the talks surprisingly understandable to the lay-person.

 

First days of Summer

You just can’t beat a sunny day and a garden full of flowers…

Scargill's Garden

Finally a Decent Fuel Cell?

When I watched this I was thinking “total con artist” until I saw the customers… this actually looks like it might be real!??!?

And more snow – worst for 50 years

According to the forecast, the Northeast of Britain was going to see less snow today while the South could be getting the worst. Well, the thing is – it’s never stopped snowing all night and it’s STILL going strong! Schools are pretty much all closing, the back garden here is easily a foot deep in pretty packed snow… I’ll put a heavy coat on later and take the camera for some Kodak Moments but for now, here’s a CCTV image, 7.40am, Wark on Tyne.  I’m afraid that car is staying put for ANOTHER day! Goodness knows how much all of this is costing the country… according to the Guardian this is the worst snow for 50 years. I certainly agree I’ve never seen anything quite like this (I’d be 6 at the time and you don’t take much notice of things like weather at 6!)

Snow in Wark 7.30am Jan 6 2010

Making the best of the Snow

Mid-afternoon January 1st 2010 – it just keeps getting better. As the snow continues to fall, the sun has come out at LAST and it’s like Winter Wonderland here in Wark!

If you look at my earlier blog you’ll note a family out in the fields behind our house. Well, SADLY they’ve gone – and I say that because now you can’t see the scale of this MASSIVE snowball – suffice it to say it looks to be at least 5ft diameter. I’m guessing they’ll come back and build a very large snowman at some point – note the blue sky behind – we’ve just gone from a completely white sky to a largely blue sky  – sadly it’s that time of day and the sun is now going down – I have high hopes for a sunny white weekend!

Field in Wark - January 1st 2010

What a DIFFERENCE a bit of sun makes!

Our garden - January 1st 2010

The view from my office

View from Scargill's office - mid-afternoon January 1st 2010

Looking up the street from our front garden – looks like a parking disaster area.

Street in Wark - Janaury 1st 2010

The start of a new decade – Global Warming – Right!

We start the new decade, supposedly in a phase of global warming, meanwhile here in the Northeast of England we see one of the coldest, whitest beginnings to a new year that I can remember.

Lest anyone in the future tell you that around 2000 or so the world started to warm up, take a look at this lot taken this morning in sunny Wark on Tyne!!  I have to say, it’s quite good fun and for once not too wet and slushy – but it’s a good job few people are in a rush to get to work today! One of our cars is stranded with friends and there is NO chance of digging it out!

Blizzards in Wark - January 2010Our back garden - January 1 2010

A snow fight in Wark - January 1st  2010

Willow Cottage - January 1st 2010

Berries in the snow

and of course, as the snow settles – families making the best of this great opportunity for fun – and why not!

Family out in the snowy fields in Wark